Sympathy for the Devil Review: Joel Kinnaman and Nicolas Cage star in stylish backroads noir - SciFiNow

Sympathy for the Devil Review: Joel Kinnaman and Nicolas Cage star in stylish backroads noir

In Yuval Adler’s noirish road movie, a father-to-be is taken for a wild night ride by a ghost from his past.

The title of Yuval Adler’s previous feature – The Secrets We Keep (2020) – might equally have served as a title for his latest, also starring Joel Kinnaman. For Sympathy for the Devil begins with a conversation about secrets. While a young boy says it is wrong to keep secrets, his stepfather David Chamberlain (Kinnaman)  offers a lesson in tact, suggesting that there are some things better left unsaid to the boy’s mother – like the fact that David occasionally lets him eat chocolate or sit in the front passenger seat, or the boy’s greater knowledge than he should have about his mother’s earlier miscarriage.

Second chances are in the air. Not only has David entered the picture as a second, loving father to the boy, but David is on his way, after leaving his stepson with grandma, to the Vegas hospital where his wife is trying a second time to have a baby with him. She is already in labour, and as David races red lights and pulls into the hospital’s underground car park, he is at a crossroads, full of hope and anxiety for a future that might be his own second chance.

It is at this point that things take a wild turn, as a stranger (Nicolas Cage), with a red jacket – and a shock of red hair to match – steps into David’s car and forces him at gunpoint to drive back out into the night. Crazy-eyed, mercurial and menacing as only Cage can be, this unnamed Passenger – who seems to know David better than the ever-secretive David will admit to knowing himself – is taking the expectant father on an unscheduled excursion into the Nevada night. It will be a trip down memory lane with mayhem and murder on the itinerary, and plenty of bumps in the road. With his distinct Boston accent, and a past that he may briefly have shared with David in Massachusetts, this peculiar, dangerous man is here to prick a conscience, to take revenge and to raise hell.

The title Sympathy for the Devil resonates through the narrative, as viewers are left to wonder whether the Passenger is a literal demon whispering in David’s ear and claiming his due, or a mortal man as much wronged as wrong seeking a messy reckoning, or merely a ghostly figment of David’s deeply buried guilt, come back to haunt him at a crucial moment in his life. In any case, David may be in the driving seat, but it is the Passenger who is giving the directions on this long dark night of the soul.

The obvious intertextual coordinates for this road-trip narrative are Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986), Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004), David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005), Julien Seri’s Night Fare (2015), Glenn Payne’s Driven (2019) and James Ashcroft’s Coming Home in the Dark (2021) – although David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) might also be exercising a shadowy influence.

The truth is, though, that, like its central character(s), Sympathy for the Devil is good at keeping its secrets. Here the road, even after it runs out, remains open, leaving viewers to work out for themselves whether David’s crashing fall is psychological, supernatural, or entirely, straightforwardly literal.

On any reading, though, as David’s carefully constructed life careers out of control, the long, winding narrative road that he travels does at times meander, cruising on the fuel of Cage’s magnetic, manic energy alone with not quite enough economy or tautness otherwise to maintain its forward momentum. Still, Adler’s film is a stylish backroads noir that affords no going back on its breakneck path paved in moral cruces, while the possibility of redemption remains a mirage on the horizon.

Sympathy for the Devil is available in US theatres from July 28.

It will be screening in the UK at FrightFest on 27 August and Signature Entertainment presents Sympathy for the Devil on Digital Platforms 8th September